Borderlands: Ethics, Ethnography and ‘Repugnant’ Christianity

9 January 2014, 17:00 - 18:30

St John's Divinity School, St Johns St, Cambridge CB2 1TW

This public Lecture is part of the CRASSH conference "Speaking Ethically Across Borders"


Professor Simon Coleman


Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians have been characterized as the repugnant Others of liberally-minded and secular social scientists. To some extent, attitudes have shifted as the anthropology of Christianity has emerged as a powerful sub-field, but ambiguities and ambivalences remain. I examine such textual and ethnographic encounters in my own and others’ work, and argue that more than divergent political orientations are at stake. Ethnographic critiques frequently centre around how such Christians cross ideological and cultural borders: acts of crossing (ranging from conversion to mission to economic transactions) themselves become sites of disputed ethical practice. I argue that ethnographers may in fact be complicit in constructing borderlands that reveal as much about the ethics of ethnographic practice as they do about those whom they presume to describe. I explore representations of belief,  doubt, contingency, risk and sincerity in support of my argument.